HARRISONBURG, Va. — A restaurateur and her daughter have found a way to serve the troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Barbara Alshefski, co-owner of Kitchen Classics LLC, has "adopted" a platoon through a national organization, while her daughter Sarah is collecting cell phones through a club at her school.
Barbara, 42, was assigned her platoon through Adopt a Platoon, an organization that connects thousands of people throughout the United States with military personnel deployed overseas.
Barbara made her first contact with her platoon around Easter.
"I sent 210 bags of Easter candy," she said. "The commander wrote back and said in 18 years in the military, he's never had anyone do that."
Sarah, 17, a senior at Harrisonburg High School, is organizing a campaign to collect used or new cell phones for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
She has a box for cell phone donations at Kitchen Classics and has added about 50 of the more than 1,000 phones collected by the schools Key Club. HHS is a collection point for Cell Phones for Soldiers, which also operates nationwide.
"The phones don't even have to work," Sarah said. "They're recycled and the money is used to purchase calling cards."
Adopt a Platoon was founded in 1998 by Ida Hagg, a Texas schoolteacher whose son was deployed in Bosnia at the time.
She reached out through the Internet to grow the organization, according to Fran Dobson, Adopt a Platoons support coordinator and co-director.
"We have a database of 25,000 to 30,000 supporters," Dobson said. "We hear from commanders, platoon sergeants or soldiers who want to know how to participate and we match them up."
Groups such as civic organizations, schools, religious institutions and businesses can adopt.
"We're desperate for support," Dobson said. "Requests from Iraq and Afghanistan are overwhelming and we can't keep up with them all."
Daughter in Iraq
Alshefski also has a daughter in Iraq. Wendy Alshefski, 20, is a specialist with the 494 Transportation Co.
"I'm really proud to be a part of (Adopt a Platoon)," Barbara said.
Alshefski has scheduled a car wash fundraiser for April 28 at the Exxon station at University Boulevard and Reservoir Street, across from her restaurant.
"I'll use the money for the platoon I support," she said. "I report it to Adopt a Platoon and they match whatever I raise."
Massachusetts teenagers Brittany and Robby Bergquist founded Cell Phones for Soldiers in 2004 to help military personnel call home without running up exorbitant telephone bills.
Over the last three years, the organization has sent phone cards with a total of 1.5 million calling minutes to soldiers.
'Doing a little bit to help'
Tony Antonnicola, marketing teacher at HHS and adviser for the schools Key Club, stressed that he and his students, "aren't taking a position on the war, for or against. We just want to do a little bit to help."
Recycling cell phones is also good for the environment, Antonnicola added.
The club has collected more than 1,000 cell phones, he said, and each one is worth about one hour on a calling card.
He credits Sarah Alshefski with starting the cell phone collection drive.
A Key Club officer and member of the HHS Reserve Officer Training Corps, Sarah has joined the U.S. Army and will leave for military police training in June.
"This was Sarah's initiative," Antonnicola said. "She wanted to do this in honor of her sister."